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Friday, August 3, 2012

3 thoughts to foster engagement and excitement: the waterpark analogy. (this is more for you than your students)

Is there any place more fun than a water park?

We have a local waterslide/swimming park. It has a nice community feel, isn't overly large, but not on the small side either. There is plenty for kids and families to do while at the park. My kids and I have a season pass and have gone a few times already this year. What I am about to admit I am not entirely proud of, but it has a happy ending and makes a good point. Most of the time we go I let the kids do their thing while I do 'more important' things. I am busy taking care of all sorts of things on the phone: I check my tweeps, send a few, make necessary and unnecessary texts and phone calls, I write my thoughts on evernote, and do all these 'more important' things. I use this time to get a lot done while the kids are playing. As I look around I am not alone, in fact far from it, most other parents are doing similar activities or even less than that. I can make excuses such as at least I took them, this is pressing business, I really need to get a hold of that person, there is nothing worse than a sunburn(a true belief I hold),etc...You get the point. I have to admit I don't really like going and find it a drag and do all I can not to go, or when I go to be 'busy' and just watch, well sort of, as the kids have fun. That all changed the other day.

I decided I was going to not take the phone or any other device in and solely focus on my kids. Was I in for a kick in the pants. For 2 hours we raced on the slides, played tag in the pool, made trains with the tubes, floated the lazy river, had a great time together. I honestly didn't think that place was all that fun before that day. Really it was just me. The kick in the pants came because I like to think I am fun and not that type of dad. I am the type that does get involved. I won't use a cell phone at my kid's performances and games, I watch and make sure they see me watching them. But for some reason I viewed the swimming park differently. I don't know why. You would think it has tons of potential. My problem was I wasn't seeing clearly. You could even say I was blind.

So what does this have to do with education? Everything.

#1 Be World Famous. We have to see our classroom as a waterpark with all sorts of engaging opportunities. I mean how blind was I not to see that I was at a place set up for fun? What place could be more fun than a waterpark? It's a place to connect with my kids and build relationships with them, it's a place to have fun, and lots of it. Our classes should have an atmosphere of excitement and awe; a place with endless possibilities and grand rewards. At the start of the year I tell my students that this class is not really world geography it's really world famous. They look at me funny and I continue to say it is, and when you believe that, it will be. I mean how different would you feel if you got up to go to regular school or got up to go to a world famous class? Can't even compare the two. Tell your class they are world famous and you'll be amazed at how they respond. This may sound cheesy but I get excited each day as I drive to school because I know I am going to have fun with my world famous class in a waterpark of our creation. I promise it works.

That means #2 is be that teacher you dreamed about being when you decided to become one. Inspiring, engaging, exciting teachers don't give drabby, boring worksheets everyday. They have students create websites and projects that blow your socks off. Look I get it, not everyday are we going to have all that energy, that's okay too. You can take a day off here and there if you need to, you just can't take them everyday. Get involved, be engaging, get out from behind your desk, get to know your students, if you make it fun for you it will definitely be fun for all. Do you remember all those lame worksheets or boring lectures when you were a student? Yea neither do I and neither will they. Be creative and create an atmosphere where anything is possible, and it just may be.

#3 Get ALL your students in the water. We all know that for even good reasons some kids will disengage. Some will do anything not get involved. They may or may not be hard to deal with, they may be socially awkward, they may be rough around the edges. It doesn't really matter why. I can't think of anything more boring than sitting in class for then entire period and doing nothing. I would be bored too. I was when I was at the waterpark. It didn't matter that everyone else was having fun, I was blind to it. Now not all of these kids will jump in with you when invited, some will, but some will still refuse. Don't take it personally. They are probably fighting some tough battles. Give them a time to rest their worries and concerns. Make sure they feel welcome and valued even if they don't acknowledge your concern. I have had many students after the fact thank me and say that they always felt welcome and safe in my class and that they looked forward to class everyday, even if they didn't really do well or get involved. We have to realize that some things are out of control, however, some are not. The time that student spends in your class is what is in your control. Get them to get involved as much as they will allow themselves. Again I go back to the saying Attitudes aren't taught, they're caught. Is your's worth catching?

As school will be starting here in the next few weeks make sure you are not blind to possibilities. Make sure you see your class as world famous and it just might become that.


  1. As a parent & teacher, I can appreciate this post! Excellent analogy & reminder to be present in the moment. :-)

  2. As me and the kids were racing from slide to slide I was thinking about this concept. Hit me hard that I wasn't having fun at a waterpark of all places. I realize the next task at hand is to make the classroom a waterpark. Now that's a challenge worth going for.

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I can identify as as both a parent and a teacher. A key to being good at both is to be fully engaged in the PRESENT... not always easy to do, but it makes for a more enriching experience for everyone when we can.